My husband and his family have made my life a better place in many ways. Thanks, Fortunes.
Family is at the heart of Thanksgiving
I never really knew what Thanksgiving was all about until I fell in with the Fortune family.
Before I knew my husband, Jim, and his mom and his three brothers and their wives and children, I kind of thought Thanksgiving was an overrated holiday. You eat — that’s it. What’s so great about that?
My own family is tiny. I have one first cousin, and I haven’t seen him since I was a kid. I grew up in the Army, always separated from my grandparents by several states. And we were often stationed in some far-flung spot where no one would want to go anyway, even for the holidays.
Fort Huachuca, Arizona, anyone?
So Thanksgiving was generally just my mom, my dad, my brother and me eating slightly more than usual and taking a turkey-induced nap in whatever town we happened to live in that year.
But then I became Jim Fortune’s girlfriend.
Jim has a family that seems, to me, huge. He is one of four boys, and his mother is married to a man who has two daughters and everyone has kids.
Over Thanksgiving weekend 1996, Jim took me home to meet the family. That’s when I discovered Thanksgiving.
We all gathered at the home of Jim’s mother, Freddie, and her husband, Mandy, set on a sprawling, sandy plot of farmland in Thomson, Ga., just outside of Augusta.
We spent the weekend eating, napping and talking for hours about nothing. We watched rented movies and interminable football games. We flopped on couches, sprawled across chairs and curled up in spare bedrooms to sleep.
When anyone needed a break from the somnolent warmth of the house, the call went out: "Who’s up for a walk?"
Several of us would pull on coats and stroll companionably across a wide field next to the house, stopping occasionally to look at all the space around us, feeling the chilly late-November air in our lungs.
Then it was time to head back to the house for more pie.
One afternoon during that lazy weekend, Jim took me into Augusta to see the small rental house where he’d grown up, to visit the bike shop where he’d worked as a teenager, to point out the high school he’d attended.
Later that night Freddie sat next to me on the couch and showed me pictures of Jim and his three brothers as children. She was in her element with her boys home and her house full of family.
When the weekend was over, everyone hugged and kissed and climbed into their cars, headed in several directions back to lives of work and mortgages and "what’s-for-dinner?"
It was jarring, leaving that weekend behind. It had been an unself-conscious celebration of family, of home and history, and it didn’t even matter that I was a newcomer. I had been welcomed and fed and embraced because one of the Fortunes brought me along, and if one of them loved me, they all loved me.
We’ve had several Thanksgivings since then. In 1998 I arrived in Thomson sporting an engagement ring. In 1999 we came to the annual family dinner as newlyweds. And in 2000, we brought our 6-month-old son for his first visit to the warm heart of his extended family.
It turned out that was our last visit to the old place in Thomson. Freddie and Mandy sold the farm last year and moved to Florida, leaving the "children" to carve out new traditions.
Old habits die hard, though. The farm is sold and Freddie is too far away to make the trip this year, but Thanksgiving will find the Fortunes together again.
This time we’ll gather in Atlanta, at the home of one of Jim’s brothers. At some point, we’ll all get on the phone to Florida, I’m sure, to tell Freddie that we love her and we miss her, but that we’re all together — just like she’d want us to be.